Dra­matic air qual­ity im­prove­ments, with a caveat

Some neigh­bour­hoods in Hamil­ton have dou­ble the cancer death risk from air pol­lu­tion

The Hamilton Spectator - - Local - STEVE BUIST sbuist@thes­pec.com 905-526-3226

On a morn­ing when there was plenty of good news to be cel­e­brated about the im­proved qual­ity of Hamil­ton’s air, Jochen Bezner stepped up to the mi­cro­phone to pro­vide a sober­ing re­al­ity check.

Over the past two decades, there has been a stag­ger­ing re­duc­tion in the amount of air pol­lu­tion in Hamil­ton from vir­tu­ally ev­ery source, ac­cord­ing to data pre­sented Fri­day at the Hamil­ton Air Sum­mit 2018, which was held in the city hall coun­cil cham­bers.

Cancer-caus­ing ben­zene is down 87 per cent. Benzo-a-pyrene, an­other car­cino­gen, is down 76 per cent. Odours from sul­phur have been cut by 99 per cent.

Same for nitrogen ox­ides and sul­phur ox­ides, down by 53 per cent and 47 per cent, re­spec­tively. And it’s now five years and count­ing since Hamil­ton last ex­pe­ri­enced a smog ad­vi­sory.

About 90 per cent of small-di­am­e­ter par­tic­u­late mat­ter emis­sions now come from out­side Hamil­ton’s bound­aries, a sign of how much local in­dus­try has cleaned up over the past 20 years.

But be­fore ev­ery­one hurt their shoul­ders pat­ting them­selves on the back, Bezner drily stated, he pointed out the qual­ity of Hamil­ton’s air can dif­fer greatly from neigh­bour­hood to neigh­bour­hood.

Bezner, a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer, is a res­i­dent of the Crown Point neigh­bour­hood in the in­dus­trial north­east part of the city, as well as a mem­ber of Coali­tion Against Pol­lu­tion Hamil­ton.

He noted some peo­ple in his neigh­bour­hood live just a few hun­dred me­tres from the coke stacks of steel­mak­ers.

Mean­while, the clos­est en­vi­ron­ment min­istry air mon­i­tor­ing sta­tion is up to five kilo­me­tres to the west, mean­ing the air qual­ity ex­pe­ri­enced in his neigh­bour­hood could be sig­nif­i­cantly worse than the read­ings be­ing posted.

Bezner noted the min­istry’s stan­dard for ben­zene and benzo-a-pyrene is one ad­di­tional life­time cancer case in a mil­lion. Along Hamil­ton’s beach strip, he stated, the same cancer risk is one in 10,000.

“We are the peo­ple who re­ally carry that bur­den,” Bezner said. “We feel the real ef­fects and frankly, we’re wor­ried about them.”

A study led by re­searcher De­nis Corr, chair of Clean Air Hamil­ton, showed there are in­deed sig­nif­i­cant dis­par­i­ties in health ef­fects at the neigh­bour­hood level.

Corr, for­merly with On­tario’s en­vi­ron­ment min­istry, took a mo­bile air mon­i­tor­ing sta­tion to a num­ber of neigh­bour­hoods around the city to col­lect data.

Over­all, Corr found that across the en­tire city, Hamil­ton res­i­dents had a 4 per cent in­creased risk of pre­ma­ture death for all air pol­lu­tants com­bined.

But at the neigh­bour­hood level, parts of the city had nearly dou­ble the risk of pre­ma­ture death com­pared to Hamil­ton’s over­all rate.

The neigh­bour­hood around the Eva Roth­well Cen­tre on Went­worth Street North, the area around Jones Road and Arvin Av­enue in Stoney Creek, and the Nebo Road area all had in­creased pre­ma­ture death risks near 8 per cent.

Corr noted there are about 185 pre­ma­ture deaths caused by air pol­lu­tion in Hamil­ton an­nu­ally.

“Of those 185 peo­ple who are dy­ing of air pol­lu­tion in Hamil­ton, it re­ally looks like it’s par­tic­u­late mat­ter and nitrogen ox­ides that are killing them,” Corr said.

What isn’t known, he added, is the pro­por­tion of those deaths that are be­ing caused by cancer ver­sus res­pi­ra­tory-re­lated ail­ments, such as asthma.

The study also found that wind di­rec­tion can have a sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect on health im­pacts and the risk of pre­ma­ture death.

For much of the lower cen­tral city, risks are no­tably higher when the wind blows from the north­east be­cause of Hamil­ton’s unique ge­og­ra­phy. With the es­carp­ment act­ing like a catcher’s mitt, pol­lu­tants can be­come trapped over the lower city.

Sev­eral of the speak­ers noted that no one from the en­vi­ron­ment min­istry at­tended the sum­mit de­spite be­ing in­vited to par­tic­i­pate.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.